One of Britain’s largest Indian women’s groups has staged a protest outside the UK Home Office’s Visas and Immigration headquarters here to draw attention to the exploitation of Indian women who accompany their husbands on so-called “dependent visas”.
Indian Ladies in the UK (ILUK) has called for a change in legal requirements that gives husbands the right to cancel a spousal visa single-handedly by claiming the breakdown of their marriage, leaving their Indian wives with no rights in the UK.
“We have women here today who have come from far and wide in the UK and who hail from far and wide in India. It’s a testament to the fact that this is a problem that is widespread,” said Poonam Joshi, founder of ILUK, at the protest yesterday.
“It is appalling that migrants bring their home-grown prejudices about the treatment of women and outdated ideas about caste, dowry etc with them to the UK. While Britain’s immigration system has been generous to millions, it is also quite easily exploited by individuals who have no sense of right and wrong when it comes to the treatment of women,” she said.
Thousands of women move to the UK on dependent visas with their partners who are employed in the country.
According to ILUK, hundreds of these women find themselves abused and exploited due to a provision in the UK immigration law under which the sponsoring partner, or the husband, is able to cancel his partner’s visa leaving the women in limbo with no legal rights in Britain.
Their exploitation is made worse by the fact that these women have no recourse to UK public funds, leading to many experiencing serious mental health problems while others are left destitute and ostracised by families and communities, ILUK claimed.
“The day I was abandoned in India by my husband would be the start of the darkest period of my life. It has left permanent mental and emotional scars. But I was one of the luckier ones as I was able to rebuild my life. Most are not so lucky and that’s why I’m here,” said Shafiqua Mohammad, a victim of the dependent visa misuse who travelled from Peterborough to join the protest in London this week.
ILUK believes that in the case of abandonment of wives in India, a provision must be in place to ensure that the UK Home Office takes the wife’s views on board and that their most basic human rights are protected by obtaining the wife’s consent prior to cancelling her dependent visa.
As it stands, the system is ripe for exploitation by men who “use, abuse and discard women at will” and the authorities must pay immediate attention to this issue to save hundreds of other women becoming destitute and their rights be preserved, the group said.
A UK Home Office spokesperson said, “This government will not tolerate abuse through marriage or other relationships.”
“We have taken a lead in tackling modern slavery, forced marriage and domestic violence and will continue to do so. We will look carefully at any evidence of where further action might help to prevent abuse or support victims,” the spokesperson said.